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CONNECT THE WORLD
Australia's Floods Could Last Weeks; African Leaders Make Another Push to Get Ivory Coast President to Step Down; Thousands of Birds Drop Dead From Sky
Aired January 3, 2011 - 16:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BECKY ANDERSON: CNN ANCHOR: Australians are warned that the country's devastating floods could last for weeks. It's worrying news for farmers who should be plowing their fields. Instead their livelihoods remain underwater.
Tonight, how will the floods affect the price of the foods that we all take for granted?
Going beyond borders on the day's biggest stories here on CNN. This is CONNECT THE WORLD.
The floods now cover an area the size of France and Germany combined. Australian authorities have warned the worst is far from over with a story that reaches far beyond Australian shores. I'm Becky Anderson in London for you.
Also, this hour African leaders make another push to get Ivory Coast self-declared president to step down. But will that fall on deaf ears?
In an eerie mystery in the American state of Arkansas thousands of birds drop dead from the sky. What do you think happened? That's what I've been asking on Twitter. My personal address is at BeckyCNN. Log on and let me know your theories.
We kick off tonight in Australia. The waters are rising. The death toll is rising. It could be days before there's any relief. The people of Queensland will have to hold on for days or maybe even weeks as the flood waters refuse to die down. Buildings rose, even airports are becoming submerged leaving authorities with a race against time to get the supplies to those who can't get away. Ten people have now died from flooding since the end of November.
City of Rockhampton and its 75,000 residents have also been totally cut off. Let's get the very latest on the situation from Brittany Court from Sky News Australia joins us from Sydney. What can you tell us at this point?
BROOKE CORTE, SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA: Well, you mentioned the issue of supplies to the region in that city of Rockhampton you mentioned 75,000 people are basically stranded. Army Black Hawk helicopters are proving to be a critical link for these people. There's been a lot of confusion actually this morning about whether key road in and out of this city are actually cut off.
We heard just a few moments ago that the Bruce Highway which we earlier believed was cut off completely and completely stranding -- leaving these people stranded, that's actually now we believe opened. But again, with these kind of things there's always that kind of confusion. And something I think that is adding to the confusion for these Australians affected is that we're in a key holiday season here in Australia. It is our main summer school break where kids get weeks off.
So you've had people going off for the holidays over the Christmas and New Year and then trying to rush to return to their houses to get their belongings and prepare their things to leave. But again, getting in and out of the city is proving very difficult.
At this stage, the flood waters haven't peaked. They're believed to peak around tomorrow. They saw peak at about 9 and a half meters or just shy of that. That's about 30 feet. But there's still more rain forecast. So certainly the worst is far from over.
The premier of the state of Queensland, Anna Bligh, has estimated this will cost about one and a half billion dollars, but that's just going to be to repair the state as that doesn't include crops and personal belongings and personal property.
One thing worth mentioning at this stage is the fuel supplies. They still are OK and authorities are saying don't start hoarding fuel at the moment. We're OK on that front. However, as the flood waters move further into Rockhampton, there are service stations and petrol stations starting to shut up shop.
So helicopters, as I said, for the moment key to providing supplies for the region.
ANDERSON: Yes, it's a real mess. Brooke, we thank you for that with the very latest there out of Australia. Residents are banding together to protect their properties, of course. A little earlier, I spoke to one Rockhampton resident. He describes just what locals are facing as flood waters threaten to rise even further.
PETROS KHALESIRAD: Should it get much higher, then that could be basically catastrophic for Rockhampton where I would be unlikely for 1,000 homes to be affected, more like 4,000 homes. So when that water comes through, I mean, you can build a sandbag wall if you want, but the water's just going to basically knock it over.
They say that the speed of the water travelling at the moment is about 30 kilometers an (INAUDIBLE) which is quite fast for water to be going down the river. Should you go out (INAUDIBLE) you simply have no chance. It is quite dangerous. The biggest hazard that people face when they are crossing (INAUDIBLE) floor waters at the moment is snakes. There's a lot of (INAUDIBLE) and brown snakes. And also the potential of sewage manholes to be displaced which create holes.
So you could be walking through flood waters that are only knee deep and you could take one more step and end up in a manhole never to be seen.
ANDERSON: All right. Well, that is the picture on the ground. You may not realize how much you use Australian industry.
From the sugar in your shopping basket to the steel that built the supermarket, there is a good chance the materials came from Oz and a chance that these floods could make them more expensive. Now, Australia is the world's largest coal exporter. Let me remind you that includes selling coal to steelmakers for coking. In fact, about two-thirds of the world's coking coal comes from Australia with many mines still shut. One financial group says these floods could cause a worldwide shortage of steel.
Shares in mining companies, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, who both declared force majeure because of the floods were down more than two percent in London last Friday. Australia's also the world's third largest sugar exporter, with entire fields of sugar cane underwater. Sugar prices worldwide hit their highest point for 30 years. Some analysts think it could go ever higher this week. So watch those markets.
And global wheat prices are on the rise too. They're at a five-month high. Australia's the fourth biggest wheat exporter, but it simply can't transport its grain right now.
Well, it could be months before things return to normal in Queensland. How much will these floods affect us all? Well, John Stephenson is the author of "The Little Book of Commodity Investment." He joins us now live from Toronto in Canada.
Listen, London wasn't (ph) open for business today, New Year's Eve, as I reminded our viewers, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton shares losing more than two percent. They were worst performance of the FTSE that day. We could, of course, see more losses for these miners when the FTSE opens tomorrow. What is your prognosis at this point, recalling coking coal for example?
JOHN STEPHENSON, AUTHOR: Well, I think coking coal of all the commodities that Australia exports is by far the most significant in terms of potential price hikes. Clearly, you can't make steel. Sixty-five percent of the world's steel is made with coking coal and so you need it. And Australia, as you mentioned at the top of your broadcast, controls two- thirds of the world's export of coking coal. So it's a huge deal. And ultimately these prices are going higher. Currently, they sit at $246 a ton. Could you see $300 or $325 in the next year? I think that's very likely.
ANDERSON: And listen, John, I mean, commodity prices across the board already been high as a result of supply disruptions around the world. No clear trends in the wheat or sugar futures. Prices generally on the rise, but not shooting up as the results of these floods. Not yet at least. And what should be expect though going forward?
STEPHENSON: Well, I think in general you will see higher food prices to come. I think a lot of people in the west really miss the fact that in 2010 we had a 26-year high in food inflation and it was the highest recorded in that 26-year period and no one really noticed. And that's partially because of the way we measure inflation in the west. We measure core which excludes energy and excludes food.
But in places like India, it's a big deal. They're officially calling for 16 percent food inflation and in some cities like Mozambique -- like Mumbai, excuse me, it's up over 100 percent year over year.
ANDERSON: All right. And, listen, we've seen the pictures. We feel for those who are living in Queensland. We heard from one Rockhampton resident here on the show. So without forgetting what's going on for those who live there which is an absolute disaster, should the rest of us be concerned going forward?
STEPHENSON: Yes, I think you should, absolutely. I think the reality is very few countries control some of these major crops. In the case of sugar, as you mentioned Australia is number three in terms of exports, Brazil number one. But Brazil controls 42 percent of the world's export of sugar. So clearly a problem in Brazil could be huge and this is just really laying out the case for why the world needs food so darn badly is that we have such tight stocks.
Grains across the world are at 15-year lows. So we're very, very tight. We have increasing populations globally, changing diets and, of course, this wacky weather that we're seeing in Australia is being played out in other parts of the world. We saw it in the Black Sea region in Russia another time a number of months ago when wheat prices spiked.
So I think you're going to see more of these stories. You're going to see higher food prices. You already are seeing higher food prices. Kraft (ph) in Europe put up coffee prices over 30 percent last year at the end of the year and I think you're going to see more of this to come.
ANDERSON: How a story in one part of the world resonates elsewhere. John, we thank you very much indeed for that.
Do stick with CNN as we keep you well updated on the story out of Australia.
Well, diplomacy in full force in Ivory Coast. Ahead, the Kenyan prime minister ends his talk saying ending a political stalemate and preventing a return to civil war.
And with the new year upon us, we look at one of the most common resolutions. The quest to quit smoking. More governments are butting in and not everyone is happy about it.
ANDERSON: All right. This is CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson for you in London.
Now, a peaceful solution. That is the stated goal of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga who traveled to Ivory Coast today to try and break the ongoing political stalemate there. Now, Mr. Odinga met self-proclaimed president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan trying to persuade him to step down. He was joined by some familiar faces. The (INAUDIBLE) who met Gbagbo last week.
Now, the West African nations they represent warn that force could be used if Gbagbo doesn't leave office voluntarily. Gbagbo is demanding a recount from November's presidential run-off election.
Ivory Coast electoral committee along with all major international governments and organizations, let me remind you, recognized Alassane Ouattara as the winner. Ouattara remains at a hotel in Abidjan, protected by United Nations troops.
Well, a senior U.S. official tells CNN that Washington would consider taking in Gbagbo to end the crisis, but the official warns that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
Let's bring in journalist Eric Agnero now on the line from Abidjan.
What are you hearing about the meeting between the Kenyan PM, the ECOWAS leaders and Gbagbo?
ERIC AGNERO, JOURNALIST (via telephone): Becky, we do (INAUDIBLE) driving behind the head of states that went to (INAUDIBLE) and then went back to see (INAUDIBLE). So maybe there was so much to talk about. Now they're heading back to presidential (INAUDIBLE) for another quick meeting before they go back to maybe the airport.
So far we didn't hear anything -- nothing that transpired yet and we hope to have a final communicate right after that final meeting with (INAUDIBLE).
ANDERSON: All right. So let me just confirm that, Eric. They've seen Gbagbo, they've been to (INAUDIBLE) at the Golf Hotel, and now they are back on their way to meeting Gbagbo at which point you hope they'll be a communicate. Am I correct?
AGNERO: Yes, yes. Hopefully, we're going to have a short communicate because I'm not sure they're going to say everything. But have a short communicate after this last stop at (INAUDIBLE) tonight.
ANDERSON: All right, Eric. Come back to us when you get the word. Eric Agnero on the line for you from Abidjan. A tangible impact of the political strife in Ivory Coast.
The looming refugee crisis in neighboring Liberia. Thousands have fled there. The U.N. Refugee Agency is setting up a camp and deploying additional staff. Earlier I spoke to the UNHCR's representative in Liberia. He said they were seeing 400 to 500 refugees there a day now. As of yesterday they have more than 20,000 registered. So I asked him hey they were coping.
IBRAHIMA COLY, UNHCR REPRESENTATIVE FOR LIBERIA: As you may know, Liberia just coming from a civil war. The basic services have started picking up, but with this big number refugees arriving and mainly in the same (INAUDIBLE) in the same country, is putting some pressure on local communities. And humanitarian organization are working hard to see how to improve the basic services like water, like sanitation, like health and also provide them some relief items.
ANDERSON: All right. Another big day of potentially big developments. And so I want to talk about it now with John Stremlau. He's vice president for peace programs at The Carter Center in Atlanta an election observer in Ivory Coast.
All right. You heard from our journalist there in Abidjan. We haven't got a headline out of this meeting between Raila Odinga, the other ECOWAS leaders and Gbagbo at this point. We are hoping to get one at some point soon.
John, what is to likely offer to Gbagbo?
JOHN STREMLAU, THE CARTER CENTER: The offer can really only be of protection. I don't think Gbagbo is looking for a foreign posting or to come to the United States. He is a man of the Ivory Coast. He's a patriot. He's got a strong political backing from a large segment of the population. But what we saw on November 28 was he didn't have the majority of the Ivorian people behind him.
He was the first place winner in the first round, and The Carter Center which observed that election applauded his success. But the coalition that Ouattara put together for the second round with the Bedier (ph), voters, the third place winners, his supporters came over and the majority of Ivorians would like to get on with their lives. And I would hope that Laurent Gbagbo would accept the judgment of the people backed by international community. Let Ouattara take office.
ANDERSON: Yes, but he hasn't accepted it yet, has he, and we're more than a month into this process. So why would he take an offer from these leaders today?
STREMLAU: Well, it doesn't look like he will take an offer from these leaders today and that is a real problem. It's a tragedy. There are a lot of other elections that have been held in West Africa recently. In Guinea just last month we had a successful election where the first round victor became the loser in the second round and accepted the results.
In Ghana, we've had close elections. You know, that's the way the voting goes. And he is being obstinate right now in a way that I think leaves the West African community the only recourse is to the threat or use of strengthening the U.N. presence with more force. There has got to a resolution of this, but it should not betray the wishes of the Ivorian people.
ANDERSON: I think our viewers will be wondering from whom and from where is Gbagbo getting his support. This is what the Liberian information minister said to me earlier today. When I asked him whether he could confirm the existence, for example, of Liberian mercenaries on the ground in Ivory Coast. Have a listen to this, John.
CLETUS SIEH, LIBERIAN INFORMATION MINISTER: We have Liberians living in Ivory Coast before. It is possible that some of them might want to get involved in mischief. So - and also, our border is a very porous (INAUDIBLE). But then we have made it very, very clear -- emphatically clear -- that we would not support any Liberian going into Ivory Coast, and anybody who's caught in that position will be dealt with according to our laws.
ANDERSON: Liberian mercenaries, it is said, Angolan mercenaries it is said allegedly and support from his own military. I mean, is this a man who is bedding in for a longer period of time than we've already had?
STREMLAU: Well, this may take more time, Becky. It's going to take time to get an ECOWAS force mobilized. There are practical difficulties, but you have to look at the fundamental equation, and that is that his military is not as reliable as his generals would like him to believe, that there are in fact other consequences of this obstinacy, such as fostering refugees or bringing in mercenaries which just make matters worse.
What the Ivorian people are desperate for is peace and stability so that Ivory Coast can take back the leadership of its role in the West African region. And Gbagbo is adamant right now it appears, but we may find a surprise in the next day or two or it may drag on. But I don't think you'll see a government and national unity and I don't certainly think you'll see a reversal of the U.N. certified voting.
ANDERSON: John, this is a country that has been riven by division for years. Experts fear this is a leader who is prepared to commit potential genocide to stay in power. You were on the ground. You were an observer. Do you share that concern?
STREMLAU: I don't think -- I think that's an exaggerated concern. Ivory Coast has not been wracked with the violence that, say, Sierra Leone or Liberia early on had. This does not diminish the fact that there are real tensions in this society that have to be addressed. If Ouattara takes power as he should, he has to be inclusive and tolerant of the diversity of that great country, but to keep this thing polarized, only sows more seeds of discord, does make the situation more difficult and prone to violence but the majority of the Ivorians voted peacefully and 80 percent in both voting ballots that we observed.
I think they're ready for a better life of prosperity and peace. Let's go on with it and not hold the country hostage to the whims of a couple of political leaders or in particular the guy who lost.
ANDERSON: John Stremlau is your expert on the subject tonight. John, we appreciate it. Look forward to speaking to you again.
Ivory Coast for you this evening. Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD another country says butt out. We head to Spain for reaction to tougher new smoking laws. Will the ban there be obeyed?
And we'll investigate the latest attacks on Christians in Egypt and in Iraq.
This is CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson in London. Stay with us.
ANDERSON: It's that time of the year, isn't it? People around the world just days into our commitments to do this and stop that. Yes. New Year's resolutions. All this week on CONNECT THE WORLD.
Take a look into one of the most common challenges. Trying to quit smoking. And tonight we're beginning with how laws are helping us kick the habit. Anti-smoking laws are tightening on every continent. But even so the world health organization estimates that right now not even six percent of the population is protected by comprehensive bans on smoking.
Ireland was the first to get tough and back in 2004 made it illegal to light up in the workplace. A ban which extended to bars and restaurants. Well several other countries have now followed suit where national bans remain elusive. Many states and municipalities are going it alone. As a result, 22 of the world's most populous cities are now smoke-free zones.
Well, Spain is the latest country to impose strict smoking bans. (INAUDIBLE) butt out in bars and restaurants and near playgrounds and hospitals.
Al Goodman spoke to locals in Madrid about what is a controversial and potentially costly new law.
AL GOODMAN, MADRID BUREAU CHIEF: There's something missing with the morning coffee for Juan Carlos Sanchez at his neighborhood bar. His cigarettes. A new law in Spain bans smoking inside all bars and restaurants.
JUAN CARLOS SANCHEZ (through translator): I'll have a coffee but just one. Normally I drink four or five. So drink up and then out to the street to smoke.
GOODMAN: We met Sanchez last week at this same bar when he could still smoke inside legally.
SANCHEZ: I could say if tobacco bothers people, why not let them be the ones to go to the street?
GOODMAN: But on Monday, it was the smokers who were outside the bars and restaurants. Spain's law which went into effect Sunday is in line with the strictest European countries, Britain, France and Italy which prohibits smoking in all enclosed public places. Back inside, non-smokers were pleased.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's much better. There's no comparison. You're drinking a coffee and it even tastes better without the smoke.
GOODMAN: Spain's Hotel and Restaurant Federation warns of a 10 percent drop in business and tens of thousands of job losses in the midst of the nation's deep economic crisis. But the government says similar laws elsewhere in Europe did not hurt business in the long run.
This bar owner says, so far, he hasn't noticed much difference for his business.
FERNANDO VAZQUEZ, BAR AND RESTAURANT OWNER (through translator): People are probably staying less time than going out to smoke. Our business is a bit down but probably not too much.
GOODMAN: The clearer air in bars and restaurants now may have something to do with the stiff potential fine for smoking. If caught once for smoking in a bar and it could cost you $40. If caught repeatedly, the fines are $800 to $130,000.
Spain's health ministry says initial reports indicate most people are complying with the non-smoking law in Spain's 300,000 bars and restaurants. People can make complaints if they see a smoker, but bar management is the main enforcer.
FLORENTINO MATAMALA, BUSINESS OWNER: On the first day, we told several people to put out the cigarette. They said they didn't know about the new law, but they complied without any problems.
GOODMAN: Smoke-filled bars and restaurants once the norm in Spain just got a breath of fresh air while smokers say they are being left out in the cold.
Al Goodman, CNN Madrid.
ANDERSON: Hmm, well it's certainly a divisive issue, isn't it? One that pits the rights of those who smoke against those who don't.
Tomorrow night, we're going to take a look at the situation here in the United Kingdom and we asked, did laws go too far or perhaps not far enough? That's tomorrow night.
Tonight, one Christian man in Iraq said sitting at home is like waiting for death to come knocking. Coming up, we're going to have the latest on the series of attacks against Christians in the Middle East. We'll see how many of them live each and every day in fear.
ANDERSON: A very warm welcome back at just past -- half past nine in London. I'm Becky Anderson. This is CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. Coming up, Egypt on high alert. Police are tightening security around churches, trying to prevent another attack as Coptics get ready to celebrate Christmas.
Also ahead in the next half hour, a mysterious death at sea and in the skies. We'll see what might be killing thousands of fish and birds in the US state of Arkansas.
And later, a British artist who's unafraid to push boundaries. Tracey Emin will be taking your questions as your Connector of the Day.
Those stories are ahead in the next half hour. First, I want to get you a very quick check of the headlines this hour.
The death toll in the floods across parts of Australia has risen to ten. An area the size of France and Germany combined is under water, and the waters are still rising. The city of Rockhampton in Queensland has been completely cut off by floodwaters. Forecasters say it could be days before conditions there improve.
The political crisis in Ivory Coast has regional leaders working to prevent a civil war. Kenya's prime minister is in the West African country trying to mediate an end to the presidential election standoff between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down, and the internationally recognized president-elect, Alassane Ouattara.
Online social media giant Facebook may be worth $50 billion. Goldman Sachs and a Russian company reportedly investing half a billion dollars in the company. That would make Facebook worth more than companies like eBay and Yahoo.
Pakistan's prime minister is scrambling to shore up his government's shaky grip on power. The ruling coalition was dealt a big blow over the weekend when they country's second-largest party pulled out and joined the opposition. Now, Pakistan's president has pledged his full support against any effort to destabilize the government.
Also in the headlines today, a deadly New Year's Day attack has Egypt on edge as the Coptic Christmas approaches. Police are tightening security around churches across the country, trying to avoid a repeat of a bombing that killed nearly two dozen Christians at a mass in Alexandria.
Coptic protestors took to the streets of Cairo on Sunday demanding better protection from the government. Clashes broke out with riot police, leaving dozens of people injured.
No one has claimed responsibility for the Alexandria church bombing, but al Qaeda-linked militants have threatened to attack Copts in Egypt after they took responsibility for a church massacre in Iraq a couple of months ago.
We've got two updates for you, now, on Christian communities who are living in fear, starting with Ben Wedeman in Alexandria.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): A steady stream of Egyptian investigators have been going into the church up the street here, trying to find clues as to who was behind the killing of, at this point, 22 people, all of them Christians on New Year's night.
Now, according to the Egyptian authorities, they're looking for 15 quote-unquote "foreigners" who entered the country in the month of December. They believe they may have some connection with the attack.
At the moment, there is a good deal of tension in the city of Alexandria. Since the bombing, there have been frequent outbreaks of fighting, of clashes between the Christian youth and the police, as well as between, in lesser instances, Muslims and Christians.
People will tell you on camera that, of course, Egyptians are standing together after this tragedy, Muslims and Christians with their hands together in unity. But off camera, though, many people will tell you that's not really the case, that there are, in fact, troubles between the two communities. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Alexandria.
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Jomana Karadsheh in Baghdad. For more than two months, now, Iraqi Christians say they have been living in a state of paralyzing fear following that horrific siege of the Baghdad church.
But the renewed violence against Iraq's Christians did not stop there. They found themselves being targeted in their own homes. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, thousands have already fled their homes as a direct result of these renewed attacks.
Now, right before Christmas, priests in Iraq were reporting renewed threats and, so, they decided to either tone down Christmas celebrations or cancel them altogether. But, as many feared, that did not bring an end to the bloodshed. Only a few days after Christmas, about 14 bombs struck Iraqi Christian homes around the capital Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 14 others.
People here are telling us that they can no longer live like this. According to one young Christian man, who we met last year and who swore that he would never leave Iraq, he says now he is desperate to get out. He says that their life has turned into a horror movie and just staying in your home means you're sitting and waiting for death to come knocking.
ANDERSON: The picture in Iraq and in Egypt. Well, it's a similar story in other parts of the Middle East, as well. Christians under threat, some unable to freely practice their faith. Many feeling unsafe in their own homes. Richard Greene has more.
RICHARD GREENE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new year. But for many Christians in the Middle East, it already looks much like the old one.
In Egypt, at least 21 killed in the bombing of a church on New Year's Day. The attack comes after a year in which Christians suffered across the region.
In Iran, a pastor sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity. And there's more, from Morocco to Afghanistan.
NINA SHEA, US COUNCIL ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: The worst place of all, undoubtedly, is Iraq, where there was a recent church bombing. But we've also seen church attacks and village attacks in Egypt, we saw the deportation of scores of Christians in the relatively moderate country of Morocco, there's a pastor, a Christian pastor on death row for apostasy in Iran. And in Pakistan, now, for the first time, a Christian woman has been condemned to death for blasphemy.
GREENE (voice-over): Pakistan's president says he won't let her be executed, but her case could be tied up in court for years.
Nina Shea says the rise of extremism in the Middle East is one of the reasons for the upsurge in violence. Religious freedom expert Leonard Leo says another problem is that governments aren't punishing people for attacking Christians. "If you're not going to enforce the law, people are going to engage in violent behavior."
In the wake of that New Year's Day attack in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak has called for a swift investigation, and for Egyptians to stand together.
In many countries, Christians, vastly outnumbered, can't defend themselves from terrorists, militias, or their own neighbors. And many of them have had enough.
SHEA: Christians are packing up and leaving, and we've seen this in Iraq, where they population has been cut in half since 2003. It's now down to about half a million people. We've seen this in Egypt, as well. Lebanon is a place that was majority Christian until a couple decades ago. It's now down to a third of the population. The Christian population in Iran has dwindled down. Throughout the entire region, there's probably no more than 15 million Christians.
GREENE (on camera): Christians aren't the only ones facing persecution. Religious minorities like Shiite Muslims and the Baha'i are also suffering. But Christians are one of the largest minorities in the Middle East and, as the new year dawns, they face fresh fears of new attacks. Richard Greene, CNN, London.
ANDERSON: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD here on CNN. I'm Becky Anderson in London.
Strange happenings in the skies and in the waters in the southern United States. We're going to ask, why are so many birds and fish dying? The search for answers up next.
ANDERSON: The new year is not off to a particularly happy start in the US state of Arkansas. The reason is, two separate incidents of mass animal deaths less than 200 kilometers apart. It's a quite remarkable story, as Andy Rose tells us, wildlife officials are now trying to unravel what are very troubling mysteries.
ANDY ROSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new year is off to a bizarre beginning in Arkansas. One hundred thousand drum fish washed up along the Arkansas River. Scientists say disease is likely to blame.
On their own, dead fish might not raise too many eyebrows, but a little more than 100 miles away in Beebe, there's another animal mystery. Just before the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, thousands of birds started falling from the sky.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was out of an Albert (sic) Hitchcock movie.
MILTON MCCULLAR, BEEBE STREET DEPARTMENT SUPERVISOR: I thought the mayor was messing with me when he called me. He got me up at 4:00 in the morning and told me we had birds falling out of the sky.
ROSE (voice-over): Residents rang in 2011 to scenes like this on roads, on roofs, on lawns. Up to 5,000 blackbirds fell within a one mile area. Most were dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is kind of amazed at this happening.
ROSE (voice-over): The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says this phenomenon is not as unusual as it might seem. The likely culprit is a lightning strike or high-altitude hail, possibly even fireworks. Investigators say there is no connection between the dead fish and the dead birds.
No matter what the explanation for these odd events, some in Arkansas say 2011 is off to an ominous start.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year we started it with flood and, this year, birds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to take any chances.
ROSE (voice-over): This is Andy Rose reporting.
ANDERSON: Bizarre, yes, but not that unusual, actually. There have been other cases of en masse deaths of fish and birds. The beginning of last year, for example, residents in outback Australia got a bit of a shock when it began raining fish. Hundreds of perch landed in the desert town of Lajamanu in what experts put down to a tornado.
Then, a few weeks later in the UK, more than 100 starlings with bloody beaks and claws fell to Earth in Somerset. Last March's grisly incident remains inexplicable, we're told.
Also last year in Bolivia, more than a million fish and other water creatures were found floating in rivers across the country. This mass kill was put down to an extreme cold snap.
Well, then, in September, hundreds of thousands of fish were found dead in Louisiana, an area affected by the BP oil spill. But, as it turned out, the death of these fish wasn't the oil giant's fault. Experts say it was due to high water temperatures caused by a low tide.
All right. Well, as you might imagine, this story's got people talking on social media sites. On Twitter, it's sparked a connection in some people's brains. Many people say the bird kill reminds them of a plot line from a short-lived American TV show called "Flash Forward."
It was about a mysterious event that causes people to temporarily lose consciousness and see visions of their future. Eventually, the characters realize the blackout was linked to hundreds of crows dropping out of the sky in Somalia in 1991, just like the case in Somalia.
In fact, I've had a tweet from somebody by the name of ifreezie (ph) here. "Birds dropping dead from the sky? Is this related to that TV series, "Flash Forward," where people see into their future in any way?"
One from kirenowa on the @BeckyCNN tweet. "I think there'd definitely a gaseous pollution somewhere that might have caused the birds to crash down."
RhymeGuy @BeckyCNN says, "It's something -- it's like something out of 'The X-Files.' I wonder if it's an omen for 2011."
Latasha Hall (ph) simply says, "I think it was, perhaps, a change of the weather patterns."
All right, let us know what you think, if you've got a theory on this one or any other story on the show tonight, you can connect with us online. Twitter is @BeckyCNN. Of course, you can also use the Facebook page, that's facebook.com and then /CNNconnect. Do join up as a friend if you haven't done so as of yet. Join the thousands who are already there. And we enjoy all of your comments on Facebook and, of course, on Twitter.
An artist who shot to fame after she aired her dirty laundry in public, quite literally. One of the UK's most successful contemporary artists, Tracey Emin answers your questions up next on CONNECT THE WORLD.
ANDERSON: Just before ten to ten in London, this is CONNECT THE WORLD. What is art, and what is its purpose? Two very big questions, of course, with very subjective answers. But an interesting person to us, we thought, is an artist who certainly knows how to cause a stir. Here's my colleague Max Foster with your Connector of the Day.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few UK contemporary artists have captured the attention of the media quite like Tracey Emin. She's perhaps best-known for this, an art installation called "My Bed," which was nominated for the 1999 Turner Prize. It was, in fact, Emin's own unmade bed, complete with stained sheets, worn underwear, and empty bottles of alcohol, the aftermath of an emotional breakdown.
Life hasn't always been easy for the graduate of the London Royal College of Art. In her memoir, "Strangeland," she reveals details about the sexual abuse she suffered, her alcoholism, and her two abortions.
Tracey Emin continues to shock and to inspire. Next month, an exhibition of her work, in collaboration with the late French artiste Louise Bourgeois goes on show in London. I went to her workshop to meet her.
FOSTER (on camera): We've got lots of viewer questions for you. Lots of people have written in to us once we said that we were interviewing you. I've got one here from Orestus. He asks, "Should everything be permissible for the sake of art and creation?"
TRACEY EMIN, ARTIST: No, it shouldn't. Simple answer, it shouldn't. Some things must never be made.
EMIN: I can give you hundreds of examples, now, but I think they may be too offensive to say on television.
FOSTER: But isn't the job of art to offend and to push boundaries?
EMIN: No. Art is to entice creative store, open up new possibilities, open up ideas of philosophy, visual philosophy, and to -- and also, art is an intensely personal journey. It isn't there to shake and provoke. It's there to actually -- for me, to improve the soul.
FOSTER: Rone asks, "Should artwork have an intrinsic value in addition to gaining a reaction?"
EMIN: Art has lots of value. The value it is is the true market value. It's like anything. So, you can't invent the market value. It is what it is. So, if I have work that sells for a certain price, and it's already there on the market. Louise already has work that sells on the market, and we -- and then, we collaborate together, then we come out to -- this is a brand new thing.
This was very difficult to price, so it's a very sensible question, actually, in a weird way. This doesn't have a market value, it's never been done before. So, we have to try and calculate and work out, but that's not my job. Galleries do that.
FOSTER: Some artists gain a lot of money for their work, and others don't. What do you think plays into the price?
EMIN: Luck. For one thing.
EMIN: Luck, talent, being in the right place at the right time, perseverance. And then, also, there's a lot of artists that just spend all their time in the studio. They have to be painting, they're really happy.
FOSTER: Are there good artists who don't make a lot of money?
EMIN: Yes, there's some. But they slip through the net. Usually -- and there's a lot more to being a good artist than just making art work. It depends on many different factors and different things.
FOSTER: What's it like living with something so iconic that you produced and will be with you forever, will define you forever?
EMIN: With my work, I like to look at it for a while, and then I like to pack it up and put away because it's too -- it makes me too fizzy. Makes me too churned up emotionally.
FOSTER: How do you keep the sort of energy and the ideas in your work to keep it as lively as that was at the time.
EMIN: You don't, actually. You have these terrible -- I have these terrible creative blocks where I can't do anything.
FOSTER: But you consistently have been successful over the period since.
EMIN: I never stop working. So, if I can't be creative, it doesn't mean to say I stop working. This is what I'm talking about. Being a good artist. I make these big embroidery things, and I make this calico cross that they're sewed on to. It takes quite a few days to make the calico cross. So, if I can't actually think of something to embroider it, then we can sit around sewing the calico crosses. There's always something to do.
FOSTER: Jurgen asks, "What can we expect for you -- from you in 2011?" I know the show's coming to London, isn't it?
EMIN: Yes. This show's coming in March -- February-March to Hauser and Wirth Gallery. Which will be nice, because I've never shown there before. And then, I've got my show at the Hayward Gallery in -- on May -- opens May the 17th, the whole of Hayward Gallery. I always have a show at the Brook -- in Brooklyn Museum, not in 2011, but the next year, in New York.
I also have a show at the Turner Center in Margate, yea, my hometown. So, the prodigal daughter returns home. And I have a show in 2013 at Miami MoCA. So, it's all big museum shows.
FOSTER: Whoa. And this -- this is your new home, isn't it? This is the first time, I think, people have seen this new studio?
EMIN: It's my studio, it's not my home. It's my studio. Yes, this is just one floor of it.
FOSTER: And it's a fabulous, big warehouse building. And I asked you if you sort of refurbished it, but you say you built it?
EMIN: I built it, yes. I knocked it down and rebuilt it.
FOSTER: But with what was here --
EMIN: Yes, I saved all -- I saved all the bricks, all the -- everything I could, all the floorboards, the staircases, everything that could be reusable, I used. But yet, when you walk in here, it just feels completely contemporary -- well, quite contemporary.
FOSTER: Because everything that hoped is that you can work here happily?
EMIN: I hope I'm going to be happy. Actually, this has given me a bit of impetus to get on with a whole new body of work, and it's brought my life back.
FOSTER: One final question from Vicky. "Is it true that you are descended from a black Sudanese slave?"
EMIN: Absolutely, yes. My great-grandfather was a slave in the Ottoman Empire in 1860. I was just quite late in terms of slaves. And my granddad's black, my dad's really dark, and my dad's a Turkish Cypriot, but he was brought up in a Greek village in Cypress, and my great-grand -- his grandfather was a Sudanese slave. Yes, so it's true. So, I'm part African. But aren't we all?
FOSTER: What would he have made of this?
EMIN: I have no idea what my great-grandfather would've made of it, but my dad was extremely proud.
ANDERSON: Could be confused, if you were all of what Tracey Emin is. But she's not, and she's fantastic. Tracey Emin, there.
Tomorrow, an actress who's battled ghosts, aliens, and fellow human beings. Who am I talking about? Sigourney Weaver, of course. Joining us in the hot seat, the start talks to us about her career and why off screen, she's campaigning for gay rights.
So, do remember, you can send us your questions for all of your upcoming Connectors. That's your part of the show, of course. Head to cnn.com/connect, and do remember to tell us where you are writing from, cnn.com/connect.
Fifty-five minutes past nine in London. A couple of minutes left. We'll be right back.
ANDERSON: An extraordinary story out of the US state of Arkansas got the team here at CONNECT THE WORLD thinking tonight, and tweeting. What were your thoughts on why thousands of birds simply fall out of the sky on New Year's Eve? Remarkable story. You'll find it on cnn.com, and on our site, on the Facebook site, CNNconnect.
RhymeGuy, "It's like something out of 'The X-Files.' I wonder if it's an omen," he says, "for 2011."
Fadib (ph) writing into @BeckyCNN, "Pollution could be one cause, or maybe some supersonic jet."
Greenwich -- or Greenwitch44 (ph) @BeckyCNN, "Probably fatigue or food poisoning, you never know what's possible these -- " Yes, you don't know what's possible these days. It is quite remarkable. Look at those pictures.
All right. Our Parting Shots this evening, we are saying hasta la vista to "the Governator." Arnie Schwarzenegger is going out as the governor of California. So, let's have a quick "Total Recall" of his time in office for you, shall we?
If you've been watching "The Terminator" films all those years ago, you'd never guess that Arnie would go on to run the world's eight-largest economy. Can you believe? I'm not sure I can, still. And it wasn't always easy. During his seven years in charge, he saw California struggling with its highest unemployment rate since the 1940s.
Schwarzenegger still managed to take his political muscle all over the world, whether it was having some banter with the Beefeaters in London or rocking the old "Terminator" shades on a visit to China.
But it was the environment that became one of Arnie's biggest priorities. Before getting elected, he even promised to put a fuel cell onto his Hummer. Which we don't think he has anymore. I think the company's gone out of business.
I'm Becky Anderson, that is your world connected this evening. It's Monday, still, here in London. "BackStory" is next, right after this check of the headlines.